A two-man team that allegedly spotted potential victims in Detroit's casinos, then followed them, bumped their vehicles before stealing their winnings -- and often their cars -- was caught in the act this week by Michigan State Police's Special Enforcement Section.
The arrests were made overnight Sunday going into Monday, said Lt. Mike Shaw, a state police spokesman, in a news conference Wednesday.
The purpose of the conference, Shaw said, was to "showcase some of the things we've been doing in the city of Detroit to combat violent crime."
Though most of the crimes took place in Detroit, state police have "statewide jurisdiction," and took the case. Investigators, Shaw said, soon came to the understanding that the string of carjackings after victims' vehicles were bumped were not random occurrences, but planned criminal activity.
The two-man team's work dates back at least to Sept. 22 when, at 4:50 a.m., on the 1800 block of Lafayette, in Lincoln Park, when a resident of the suburb was victim of an armed robbery after leaving a Detroit casino.
On Sept. 26, at 2 a.m., in the area of Interstate 96 and I-75 in Detroit, a white sedan rear-ended a vehicle. When the victims stopped, the visitors from Minnesota were robbed at gunpoint.
Later that day, state police responded to an armed robbery report at McNichols and I-75 in Detroit. A gray sedan was rear-ended by a white sedan, whose occupant then robbed its driver at gunpoint, taking the gray sedan and leaving the stolen sedan behind. The victims were Sterling Heights residents.
On Sept. 30, at 10 p.m., at I-75 and Warren Avenue, state police responded to another armed carjacking. The same bumping scenario had occurred, except this time the stolen gray sedan was left behind, and the victim's white sedan was stolen. That victim hailed from Clinton Township.
Then, early Saturday morning on Sept. 30, a gold sedan rear-ended a gray sedan in the area of Trumbull and the I-75 service drive in Corktown. The robber took the victim's sedan and left the gold vehicle behind. The victim is a 51-year-old Detroit man who'd just been playing at a casino.
"It was at this time we began to notice we had a pattern developing," Shaw said. "One thing we noticed: this was all related to the casinos in Detroit," two of the three, though he declined to say which two.
Once state police took the case, they began re-interviewing victims and saw that the common thread was that all had come from the casinos.
State police quickly identified the suspects and began surveillance on them, Shaw said. Surveillance teams, working with a state police helicopter that patrols Detroit, followed the suspects to a senior center. They entered the grounds with one vehicle, then allegedly stole another one while there.
Surveillance caught the stolen van "circling the casinos," and also noticed that a "spotter vehicle," a red Dodge Charger, was seen near the scene at several of the crimes, Shaw said.
"Eventually, the stolen vehicle was observed rear-ending a vehicle on the northbound Lodge (Freeway) near Forest," Shaw said.
The rear-ended vehicle, Shaw said, "had just left the casino."
Surveillance spotted the driver of the stolen vehicle approach the rear-ended vehicle. He was armed. State troopers jumped out of the cars and arrested the man without incident. He had tried to toss the gun under the vehicle, Shaw said, but police recovered it.
The Charger was pulled over separately and its driver arrested. Both suspects are jailed, though have not yet been arraigned, so Shaw declined to share their names.
Michigan State Police are pursuing federal charges, Shaw said, because the penalties are stiffer than what could be had in Wayne County, where they might normally have been filed.
"These individuals pose a huge danger to the people of Detroit, so we wanted to seek the highest possible charges we could."
The investigation now covers six cases, but at least one more victim, who "may have some warrants out for their arrest," and has not come forward, Shaw said. Thus far, eight stolen vehicles, one stolen handgun, and one rifle have been recovered in the investigation, Shaw said.
Shaw stressed the importance of "situational awareness" for casino guests.
"They're bad people inside casinos who are willing to do bad things to people who win money there," Shaw said.
"Sometimes," Shaw continued, "people want to take that entire cash amount they've won and throw it up in the air and feel good — take the check instead."